What Is Dry Cleaning and How Does It Work?

Tips for Dry Cleaning Your Garments

Dry cleaning was "discovered" in 1855 when a servant accidentally spilled kerosene on a dirty, greasy tablecloth and, when the kerosene evaporated, the cloth was clean! The servant's employer then began marketing this method of textile cleaning, and is credited with starting the world's first dry cleaning business.

Dry cleaning uses organic solvents like perchloroethylene to clean clothes without water. These organic solvents dissolve stains, absorb dirt and, through a filtering and distillation process, clean by evaporation. Kerosene and alcohol are some of the other common organic solvents.

These compounds, as used by dry cleaning services, can remove grease-based stains like butter but may not be as effective on water-based stains like soup unless the stain is pre-treated and dry cleaning services are promptly sought.

Dry Cleaning Basics

Certain garments cannot be laundered with water and regular laundry detergent because the process will permanently disrupt the fiber structure and severely weaken the fabric. Clothes may rumple, lose shape, shrink or change color. Rayon, linen, tailored woven wools, silk and velvet all require dry cleaning. Clothing made of a blend of fabrics, and therefore subject to irregular shrinking, as well as highly structured garments and garments with shoulder pads or silk lining also need service from a dry cleaning business.

Dry cleaning will only harm fabrics with special finishes or unique resins, such as those found in quilts made with cotton batting. The dry cleaning equipment and chemicals dissolve the batting glue, causing the batting to shift and bunch up.

The services offered at a dry cleaning business include stain pre-treatment and removal as well as steam pressing and garment hanging, folding and packaging.

Dry Cleaning Equipment and Supplies

A dry cleaning business uses machines resembling commercial dryers to both wash and dry clothing. Solvent is pumped through clothes while they are dropped and pounded against baffles to remove stains and dirt. The solvent is repeatedly filtered and redirected through clothing for about 8 minutes, then spun out. Heat is applied to dry the clothes and vaporize the solvent, which is then condensed over cooling coils and distilled for use in the next load of garments.

A dry cleaning supply company categorizes its products into three main categories: cleaning machines, solvents and detergents, and packaging items like boxes, bags and hangers.

Special Dry Cleaning Services

Solvents can dissolve or ruin decorative trims and fasteners. Dry cleaners can remove these items before cleaning and reattach them afterward.

Special dry cleaning laundry services include starching, pressing, steaming, alterations, sewing and clothing repair. Cleaning prices range from $5 to $15 per item, pressing generally costs about $1 to $5 per item and alterations or repairs usually reach the $5 to $15 per item range as well.

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